New York, Nu York: The Baby Sitter Meets the Writer

I did a good deal of babysitting for neighbors when I was a preteen and teenager. Most of the families I worked for lived on my block or on the next block, and during my college years I babysat for a few children I worked with as a part-time assistant teacher in the Bank Street School Elementary school's after-school program. I learned a lot about child psychology and family dynamics as a babysitter, and made money.
A few times I also had more remarkable experiences as a babysitter, particularly when I sat for one or more of my next-door-neighbors' children. My family and I lived next door to Malcolm Hoenlein's family, and sometimes I babysat and tutored secular school subjects for his daughters. I realized that Mr. Hoenlein was an important person in the Jewish and New York community (he has served for many years as the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations) and one of the primary indicators of this for me was that sometimes politicians came to visit at his house.
I have a distinct memory from when I was in high school, when one day a limousine pulled up in front of my neighbor's house and out of the car emerged our senior New York State senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The other kids I was hanging out with didn't seem to know who he was but I recognized him from the TV news. So I said "Hello, Senator!" He doffed his hat (he favored fedoras) and crowed "Hello, children!"
One time I babysat for two of the Hoenlein family's daughters and the parents asked me to dress nicer, which I did. This seemed a bit odd to me, but soon I found out why: the parents were hosting a few dignitaries and at a certain point I would bring the children to greet their guests. So for a while I helped the girls with school work or played board games with them, and then we came out to meet the special guests.
One was our member of the House of Representatives, Charles Schumer (who is now our senior NY Senator). Another was a senator from Washington State, Henry "Scoop" Jackson. I recognized both men by their names and had seen them in the newspapers. There were a few other guests there as well, but the one I remember most clearly was the writer and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel.
We all said our hellos, and my image of Mr. Wiesel, which I recall very clearly, was of a short, slightly built man who seemed almost swallowed up by the large couch upon which he sat. I knew of him because I had read "Night" in school, in fact, in public school, not in Hebrew school.
I remember the politicians and a few other guests speaking with strong voices and milling about the room, but Mr Wiesel sat quietly and seemed...pensive? calm? I said hello to him and he said hello to me. I was just the babysitter and here was a famous writer: what could I say to him then? That was my thinking at the time, so I kept to the polite-and-few-words policy. This wasn't like the time that I bumped into a moderately famous actor in a Greenwich Village clothing store, who glared at everyone while waiting for his teenager to try on clothes. And this wasn't like the time I sat in a darkened theater a few seats away from choreographer Jerome Robbins, and wondering what to say to him, although he dashed out just as the house lights came on.
I thought of my brief meeting with Mr Wiesel upon hearing of his passing on July 2nd. I know many people will write more eloquently about his work , and he is more than deserving of this praise. In addition, many people will exhort us, and rightly so, to read his work and words, and think and act based upon his important messages. But I also remember this passing meeting with him, from the 1980s, and I respect him for that.